Discipleship or Die (Pt. 2)

Part one focused on the importance of discipleship. That focus is continued here, though with an added flavor of real life.

Discipleship can happen through a wide variety of relationships, and it doesn’t need to be limited to a specific one. Discipleship, which I sometimes think of as mentoring, is not always one-on-one, and it doesn’t need to be. Luke 6:40 says that when a mentee is fully trained, he will be like his mentor. In many cases cases, though, when a mentee is fully trained, he will be like his mentors.

We can have many mentors, such as parents, teachers, pastors, and friends. You can’t always choose them, but you can choose to benefit from the ones placed in your life. Mentees who understand the the value of multiple mentors can learn the most by adopting the best from multiple examples. And mentors who understand the value of multiple mentors can loosen their grip and understand that others may be able to offer something valuable they don’t have.

Proverbs praises the grace God gives through a multiplicity of mentors.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22).

“Where there is no counsel, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).

“By wise guidance you can wage your war: and in an abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov. 24:6).

No one mentor is perfect, but in a multitude of them, you tend to pick up on their best qualities and instruction. For example, I like to listen to sermon audio and benefit from different speakers with different strengths. I like some for their winsome tactic, some for their clear exegesis, some for their passionate delivery, and Piper for just about all of those reasons! As a result, the way I preach has dramatically changed; I can’t help but think with their voice in my head as I study and share Scripture. But even though they may have influenced my preaching, there’s only so much they can do through a recording. They can’t shape my life any where near as much as those who actually preach directly into my life. God has placed people around us in order to shape us like no one else can.

Different Types of Discipleship

I tend to think about discipleship relationships through three prototypes—Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas. Having a Paul means having someone who is pouring into you. Having a Timothy means having someone you are pouring into. And having a Barnabas means having a peer who is somewhere in between.

Paul

As you go through college, Pauls will be everywhere, and their teaching and example will be invaluable, whether or not you realize it at the time. It’s kind of like music. A music sheet may be of no value to you, yet you would pay a lot of money to see it performed on stage. That’s because embodiment is incredibly important. We want to see what it actually looks and sounds like, not just what it is in theory or on paper. And this is where Pauls are of immense value. They don’t just teach you how to read and play the music; if you listen to their life, you can hear it for yourself.

When I go to a restaurant and look at a menu, the first thing my eye will be looking for are the pictures. I just have a hard time choosing a menu item that I can’t see because I’m not really sure it’s going to be worth it. Likewise, mentors provide you with a picture of what to choose for your life. They model what you should live like, and, at least for me, when I start to see the life of a mature Christian, it motivates me all the more to pursue Christian maturity.

This just seems to be the norm of Christian influence in the church. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Php. 3:17). Gospel truth isn’t meant to be etheorial; it’s meant to be exemplified in real lives. Jesus is the greatest evidence that God intended the truths of Scripture to be living realities. He left us an example so that you might follow in his steps” (2 Peter 2:21). And He’s given us mentors so that we can follow them as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

Timothy

Timothys are easier to neglect during college, but if you want to stay on mission for ministry, I encourage you to find a Timothy or two. Beyond a Timothy’s need of you, you need him or her. It’s like secondary muscles. When you do an exercise, there are primary muscles that you engage—those are the ones that feel the most burn. But there are also secondary muscles that are important to utilize. Secondary muscles are the ones that stabilize your primary muscles and increasing help as your primary muscles lose energy. When primary muscles get worn out, that’s when people start to “cheat” the exercise and rely more on their secondary muscles. In other words, without the secondary muscles, the primary muscles aren’t usually as strong as expected. And when the primary muscles start to burn out, the secondary muscles help them keep going. The point of that analogy is not to say that a Timothy is “secondary” or of lesser importance, but on days when your spiritual energy is low, knowing that someone else is in a way depending on you spiritually provides an extra boost of energy to stay faithful and push on—not just for your sake, but theirs.

Barnabas

We don’t so much have a need for peers as we have a need for a Barnabas. Acts 9:26-27 is a noteworthy account of how a Barnabas can have a powerful influence.

“When he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.”

Barnabas saw beyond the surface of what others saw in Paul—they didn’t even believe Paul was a disciple! But Barnabas knew Paul and his calling, and he did what he could to help further Paul in his mission. The “but Barnabas” moment in verse 27 is what led to Paul’s continued ministry and preaching in verse 28-30 and the resulting description in verse 31—“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Barnabas played a big role when Paul faced obstacles. And you, too, will greatly benefit from someone who pushes you when you face obstacles in ministry. Someone that lifts you up and encourages you to continue in your calling, doing what they can to help you succeed in God’s mission. And the great thing is that you can be that kind of influence on someone else. Develop those relationships now! In my opinion, college years are your best opportunity.

Be Intentional

A lot of your relationships will come naturally, and some discipleship moments happen spontaneously. But I encourage you to develop those relationships and discipleship moments with intentionally.

My dorm mentor had a large impact on me, and part of that was because I would barge my way into his room to start a discussion about what God was teaching me. There’d be weeks where I’d stop by to talk with him every day, but there’d also be weeks I hardly spent time any time together in our dorm. Eventually I let him know how beneficial those times were for me, and we started more regular, structured times of talking and praying. But I’m amazed at how much those informal times together shaped me, just constantly weaving together “regular” and “spiritual” talk.

But there’s another story of discipleship that started recently in my life. It’s a lot more formal and structured, but it’s equally as impactful. I reached out to Daniel, one of the graduating highschoolers in my small group at church to see if he was up for using this summer as an intense spiritual boot camp before he goes off to college. I asked if he wanted someone to help push him spiritually. Providentially, the Holy Spirit was already prompting him towards his need for something like that for the summer—so he said yes. That discipling relationship was shaped by certain goals that were set for each week, based on how much time was available each day. We typically choose Scripture to memorize, certain books to read, and a time at night when we could call each other, sharing what God taught us that day and exhorting each other to stay faithful. I view this relationship somewhere between a Timothy and a Barnabas. And even though it was highly mapped out and structured, we both came to see our need of it and appreciated the discipline that’s needed to follow through with the plan. I really can’t explain how much God has done in my life because of that relationship, even with its high formality. Not to mention we did almost all of it from a distance—take that, COVID-19.

Those two stories hopefully help you think about what discipleship might look like for you while you’re in college. And maybe—just like I use to—you have a distaste for structure and intentionality in discipleship because you don’t want it to seem forced or unnatural. But I encourage you to consider my story with Daniel and trust me that even with the more formal approach to discipleship it’s been one of the greatest things in my life. The intentionally comes from a recognition of its importance, and the structure arises because we realize our tendency to neglect those things that are most important to us. Doing what’s natural may be easier, but being intentional can lead to what’s better.

What the Bible Says

In conclusion, here are some relevant passages for you to consider as you contemplate how discipleship fits into your mission for ministry. Hopefully you’ll be seeing discipleship rise to the surface as you prioritize what God has emphasized and position yourself where God blesses.

Ephesians 4

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:7, 11-16).

Read this passage again and try to identify the desired goal or outcome that Paul is explaining. Now read it a third time and identify how that goal is going to be accomplished. If you paid close attention, you’ll see that the body growing up and maturing into Christlikeness is the goal and the way it’s accomplished is by equipped members of the body building each other up. Everyone building each other up until we are in every way like Christ—that’s the picture. That’s why you need to be discipled, and that’s why you need to be discipling.

2 Timothy 1-2

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you…. You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:1-12).

Answer this question: how is Timothy suppose to guard the good deposit entrusted to him? We naturally think of guarding as locking something up to keep it safe, but that’s not the case here. Unlike a secret recipe, Christian’s are not supposed to take the gospel with them to the grave. They guard it by giving it away, making sure that it is entrusted to someone else who understands it and can pass it on to others. This is why you need to be active in discipleship, because we want to keep the influence of the gospel alive, generation after generation. So the question for you is “Will the gospel die with you?”

Titus 2

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:1-6).

Teaching that accords with sound doctrine (2:1) is teaching that leads to godliness (1:1). This teaching, then, is not just some theoretical doctrine that’s up in the clouds, but something that touches and shapes real life. So one way to think about it is this—1) a life that is being saved by God’s grace is a life that’s being sanctified by God’s grace (Titus 2:11-14), and 2) older believers teaching younger believers is one of the main ways God’s grace trains us to live those sanctified lives. This is why you need discipleship; it is the way God intends to make sanctified people for His glory, one generation after the next.

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